Environment

Ice: Scientists scramble to cut ice caps as glaciers melt – Naveen Bharat

Scientists are running to collect ice Along with the long-frozen record they hold climate cycles as global warming melts glaciers and ice sheets. Some people say that their time is running out. And, in some cases, it is already too late.
Late last year, German-born chemist Marghita schwikowski And a team of international scientists attempted to collect snowflakes from the Grand Combin Glacier, located on the Swiss-Italian border, for a UN-backed climate monitoring effort.
In 2018, they had searched the site by helicopter and drilled a shallow test corps. The core was in good shape, Schwikowski said: It contained atmospheric gases and chemical evidence of past climates well preserved, and radar penetrating the ground showed a deep glacier. Not all glaciers in the Alps preserve both summer and winter snowfall; If everything went according to plan, these cores would be the oldest ever, she said.
But in the two years it took scientists to return with a complete drilling set-up, some of the information trapped in the ice had disappeared. Freeze-thaw cycles had created icy layers and pools of meltwater throughout the glacier, which another member of the team described as water-filled sponges, rendering the core useless for basic climatology.
“The sudden drop tells us how sensitive these glaciers are,” said Schwikowski, head of the analytical chemistry group at the Paul Scherer Institute in Villigan, Switzerland. “We were just two years too late.”
The mission on the Grand Combine underscores the major challenge facing scientists today to collect ice caps: some glaciers are disappearing faster than expected. This realization is prompting a renewed urgency, prompting missions to specialize in harvesting snowflakes to accelerate, re-think where to target next, and expand storage capacity.
According to the United Nations, almost all glaciers in the world are shrinking. In its most comprehensive climate report ever published in August, the United Nations concluded that “human influence is the main driver of the near-universal retreat of glaciers globally since the 1990s.” The report also states that without immediate, large-scale action, the average global temperature will reach or exceed 1.5 °C above the pre-industrial temperature average within 20 years.
The speed at which the mass of glaciers is decreasing is also increasing. A study published in April in the science journal Nature found that glaciers lost 227 gigatons of ice annually from 2000 to 2004, but that increased to an average of 298 gigatons a year after 2015. One gigaton is equal to one billion metric tons. One gigaton of ice would fill New York City’s Central Park and be 341 meters (1,119 ft) high.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, about 10% of the land area on Earth is currently covered by glacial ice.
If a glacier is melting and no longer storing ice, it means it is no longer capturing atmospheric gases from today for scientists to study in the future.
Two years ago, the southern peak of Sweden’s Kebnekes Mountains lost its designation as the country’s highest point after a third of its summit glacier melted.
For Schwikowski, the disappearance of glaciers isn’t just a professional blow; It is also an emotional hit. “The mountains look different without them, barren,” she said. In the Alps, mountains without glaciers are “absolutely frightening”.
“full blow”
Last September, Schwikowski bundled up in snow gear as wet cylinders of snow were pulled out of boreholes at the Grand Combine. The moisture startled him, she said. Cold melt water drained from ice cubes that should have been solid. And the core, which was supposed to be translucent, had sections that were completely clear.
Ice cores such as the Grand Combin have helped scientists explain humanity’s impact on Earth’s climate by providing a record of greenhouse gases dating back to long before industrialization. The ice preserves tiny air bubbles – direct evidence of a past atmosphere. Snow also captures air pollutants, pollen, and other temperature and precipitation measures in a single collection, all on the same time scale, sometimes at different seasons resolution.
Italian climate scientist Carlo Barbante, another member of the Grand Combin expedition, said the rate at which ice melted on the Alpine massif in the past few years was “much greater than previously thought.” Finding the wet core was an “absolute blow,” he said.
As a result, other scientists including Barbante and Schwikowski accelerated plans to extract a core from cole gnifetti Glacier at the summit of the Alps Monte Rosa, a few hundred meters higher than Grand Combin. In June, several months ahead of what was originally scheduled, they launched. Barbante said the two cores he drilled were of good quality.
Barbante said he also hoped to organize a visit to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the only possible ice core site left on the continent, in the next year or so. A study cited in a recent UN report calculated that current warming has already set the pace for melting that will eliminate all glaciers on the mountain by 2060.
2009 discovery by American scientist douglas hardy The mummified remains of a 19th-century pig at one of the highest points of mountain glaciers reveal some of the climate history scientists are hoping to retrieve. “The implication is that we have lost the last 200 years of recorded time,” Hardy said.
Barbante and Schwikowski are part of a scientist-led group called ice memory Which is trying to build a collection of ice cubes from glaciers around the world. Ice Memory is supported by the United Nations’ main cultural agency, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
So far they have drilled in Europe, Bolivia and Russia. The cores are being temporarily stored in Europe, but the plan is to send them to Antarctica for long-term storage as the site will not be dependent on electricity, which could withstand an outage.
“A hundred years from now, when alpine glaciers completely disappear, we will have samples for future generations of scientists”, Barbante said.
ice storage expansion
Beyond greenhouse gases, scientists say they may be able to use ice cores to study the DNA of ancient bacteria and viruses that may re-emerge as the world warms. Frozen insect and plant pollen can also reveal the history of the world’s forests and their fire cycles.
Another team of scientists, whose findings were published in July in the scientific journal Microbiome, found viruses about 15,000 years old in two ice core samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China. The findings identified the genetic code for 33 viruses, of which at least 28 were new to scientists.
That team of scientists included US-based ice core paleoclimatologists Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson, who are husband and wife.
Lonnie Thompson said the pace at which ice is disappearing has led to plans to expand its ice core storage facilities at Ohio State University, which he began fundraising last year. He hopes to raise $7 million. So far they’ve raised about $475,000 through donations and pledges, according to the school’s Bayard Polar and Climate Research Center. The refurbishment will double the facility’s storage capacity to more than 13,550 meters of ice cores.
Some of the cores that Thompson and his team have collected are ice left over from some glaciers. Two of the six ice core sites on Kilimanjaro in Africa that his team drilled back in 2000 have disappeared. So have they drilled sites in Papua, Indonesia, in 2010. Thompson said the others would be gone within 50 years.
In some cases, lakes are formed when ice melts on glacial surfaces, a red flag indicating melting may occur faster than previously predicted. He said it was a wake-up call that the core should be cut at the earliest.
“Snow has an amazing collection of not only climates but also climate robustness,” Thompson said. “Those histories are at risk as the Earth warms and glaciers retreat.”
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